Wednesday, 25 June 2008

New York Times: Virgins of Albania

Photograph © Johan Spanner for The New York Times-All Rights Reserved

I'm a real sucker for this kind of reportage, but read on! The New York Times featured a so-called multimedia piece titled The Sworn Virgins of Albania and an accompanying article, which tells us that in the isolated and conservative northern Albania, gender swapping was the norm for families that had a shortage of males...either due to natural causes or due to blood feuds that continued for generations. Consequently, some women took vows of lifelong virginity, and lived as men.

Much to my disappointment, the photo essay (erroneously described as multimedia) has no audio, and the measly 6 photographs cannot do justice in telling the life stories of these interesting women. I don't blame the photographer since I'm almost certain that he photographed to his heart's content...but the absence of accompanying audio interviews (and the small number of photographs) makes this slideshow nothing but a weak one-dimensional product. Why does The New York Times editors think that this qualifies as multimedia is beyond me.

I just returned from teaching a multimedia class at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Mexico City, and the first thing I asked the photographers in my class to do was to capture ambient audio...and then photograph.

So here's the basic rule: slideshows with no ambient sound are not multimedia products....they are just slideshows. Slideshows with music "borrowed" from the web are not multimedia products...they are just slideshows with the photographer's iTunes songs/music playing in the background. Just imagine if the "Virgins of Albania" feature had ambient sound recorded where these women live, with snippets of their voices telling their life stories and experiences, textured by a narration by the photographer!!! It'd be a gem of a multimedia ethnographic-cultural reportage...that's what it would be. As it stands now, it's nothing but a waste of a good idea.

The accompanying article by Dan Bilefsky is here